4/9/10 - cleopatra

In today's excerpt - although the Cleopatra of yore was portrayed primarily as a seductress, the real Cleopatra was a skilled naval commander, a published medical authority, and an expert royal administrator who was met with adulation throughout the eastern Mediterranean, and was perhaps even seen by some as a messianic figure, the hope for a future eastern Mediterranean free of Roman domination:

"Few personalities from classical antiquity are more familiar yet more poorly grasped than Cleopatra VII (69-30 B.C.), queen of Egypt. ... Cleopatra VII was an accomplished diplomat, naval commander, administrator, linguist, and author, who skillfully managed her kingdom in the face of a deteriorating political situation and increasing Roman involvement. That she ultimately lost does not diminish her abilities. ...

"Like all women, she suffers from male-dominated historiography in both ancient and modern times and was often seen merely as an appendage of the men in her life or was stereotyped into typical chauvinistic female roles such as seductress or sorceress, one whose primary accomplishment was ruining the men that she was involved with. In this view, she was nothing more than the 'Egyptian mate' of Antonius and played little role in the policy decisions of her own world. ...

"Yet she was the only woman in all classical antiquity to rule independently—not merely as a successor to a dead husband—and she desperately tried to salvage and keep alive a dying kingdom in the face of overwhelming Roman pressure. Descended from at least two companions of Alexander the Great, she had more stature than the Romans whom she opposed. ... Depicted evermore as the greatest of seductresses, who drove men to their doom, she had only two known relationships in 18 years, hardly a sign of promiscuity. Furthermore, these connections—to the two most important Romans of the period—demonstrated that her choice of partners was a carefully crafted state policy, the only way that she could ensure the procreation of successors who would be worthy of the distinguished history of her dynasty. ...

"Because there are no certain portraits of Cleopatra except the two dimensional shorthand on her coinage, little can be said about her physical appearance. The coins show a prominent nose (a family trait) and chin, with an intensity of gaze and hair inevitably drawn back into a bun. That she was short is explicitly stated in one source and perhaps implied in the famous bedsack tale. A notice by Plutarch is often misquoted to imply that she was not particularly beautiful, but what was actually written is that the force of her personality far outweighed any physical attractiveness. Sources agree that her charm was outstanding and her presence remarkable. ...

"[She was caught in a power struggle between Octavian (Augustus Caesar) and Antonius (Mark Antony)], and when protracted negotiations between Octavian and the couple failed to resolve anything, and in the summer of 30 B.C. Octavian invoked the military option, invading Egypt. Cleopatra, finding Antonius dispensable and hoping that she or her kingdom might survive without him, tricked him into suicide, but when she found that she herself was being saved to be exhibited in Octavian's triumph in Rome, she also killed herself. In August Of 30 B.C. the Ptolemaic kingdom came to an end. ...

"Some of the most familiar episodes of her career simply did not happen. She did not approach Caesar wrapped in a carpet, she was not a seductress, she did not use her charm to persuade the men in her life to lose their judgment, and she did not die by the bite of an asp."


Duane W. Roller


Cleopatra: A Biography


Oxford University Press


Copyright 2010 by Oxford University Press


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment